Ah the joys of summer, sunny days with Slip n’ Slides, bike rides, ice cream cones and the knock-down-drag-out WWF in the back yard. I love having my kids at home for summer break. I try to create opportunities for memories and fun times with family, but around this time every year I begin to look forward to fall as their ability to get along with each other grows more and more tumultuous as the days go by.
Let me start by saying two things:
1. I have great kids. Most of the time they are sweet and loving. Most of the time they amaze me with their generosity and concern for their fellow man.
2. I don’t tolerate hitting, kicking, biting or screaming in my house. I have one girl and two boys and, regardless of gender, I try to teach my kids to use their brain when in a conflict, not their sometimes-instinctive response to gut-punch their adversary.
There are days when I truly believe some sort of hormone in our water transforms my sweet kids into Genghis Kahn, Al Capone and Calamity Jane. One second everyone is playing nicely. The next second our once peaceful house is rattled with slamming doors, screams of accusations, thrown toys and a terrified pug dog running to her crate for shelter from the latest firestorm. It is really quite amazing to watch the tide turn from happy Hallmark moment to survival of the fittest.
The most difficult thing for me to handle when my kids face conflict is the constant tattling. “He did this.” “She said that.” My personal favorite is when my daughter decided to tell her brother that he could not possibly be related to her and that he must be adopted. Can you feel the familial love?
Most of the time, I encourage my kids to work out their problems between each other using words and without getting physical. Sometimes the “solve it yourself” tactic works. Other times, not so much. My best effort is to sit down with the kids and help them talk it out. I encourage them to do the talking which is really hard, and let me tell you, the past two years of conflict resolution grad studies are really put to the test. Clear communication is especially difficult when you are trying to sort out how a three year old truly feels when someone beats up his Elmo with GI Joe. Since my daughter is getting older her new war tactic is to completely ignore her brothers altogether. Some days she refuses to be in the same room with them or even eat at the same table. This makes mediating between the parties nearly impossible when one party refuses to talk to the other on principle.
Today I witnessed adults amidst conflict and was reminded that these fights between my kids are mere practice sessions for their future. If I don’t train them how to get along with each other now then they will surely have relational struggles as adults. Too often I come across grown-ups who simply cannot face someone of whom they disagree regardless of topic. They simply stop talking to the other person. Other times I visit with adults who spend more time talking over their adversary rather than listening to gain a better understanding of their dissonance. The noise of their “conversation” simply creates a deeper chasm between them.
One would hope that in the church these relational problems would not exist. However, within the church the battles rage onward over trivial matters, and adults unfortunately reenact childish behaviors rather than discussing conflictual issues, as brothers should. Christ knew this would be our struggle. In fact, some of his last words were for believers to be united, to be “one”.
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” ~John 17:20-23
This is my prayer for my children: unity among them. This is also the example that I want to set for my children: unity in the church. When push comes to shove and I’m in the tumultuous relationship the healthiest lesson for my kids is to witness is me working it out by facing difficult conversations rather than avoiding them, by my example of calmly listening to others in order to understand their perspective instead of loudly expressing my own opinions, by recognizing my own inadequacies and taking responsibility for them, and above all remembering Christ’s plea for unity among us.
Today I’m thankful for moments when I am encouraged to hold kitchen table mediations regarding Popsicle inequality and the ill treatment of stuffed animals. I am thankful for moments that remind me to work toward the unity of the future.